Weight Management : Help Kids Maintain a Healthy Weight

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Many kids are spending more time in front of the television or computer and less time being physically active. And since most families are busier than ever, it can be a challenge to prepare nutritious home-cooked meals.

Nutritionally poor diets and lack of physical activity are taking a toll on kids. Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on wellness:
  • Obese youth are starting to develop conditions that have been traditionally associated with adults, including heart disease and diabetes. Obese kids are more likely to have high cholesterol or high blood pressure. They are also at a greater risk for prediabetes, which indicates a higher likelihood of developing diabetes.
  • Kids who are obese are at a higher risk for bone and joint problems as well as sleep apnea.
  • Obese kids often experience social and psychological problems, such as poor self-esteem and stigmatization. A recent study finds that "being fat" is seen as the most common reason why children are bullied. Weight-related bullying was more common than bullying for reasons such as race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion.
  • Children and teens who are overweight or obese are more likely to be obese as adults, increasing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and osteoarthritis as well as several types of cancer.
Preventing kids from becoming overweight or helping them achieve a healthy weight starts at home -- leading a healthy lifestyle begins with parents who lead by example. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated its recommendations for combatting childhood obesity and notes that parents should embrace healthy eating habits and behaviors to help kids maintain a normal weight.

"It is never too early for a family to make changes that will help a child keep or achieve a healthy weight," says Dr. Sandra Hassink, present of the AAP. "Families can improve their eating habits in a variety of ways, but it is important for healthy eating and physical activity to be tailored to the child's developmental stage and family characteristics."

The AAP recommends the following positive steps for families:
  • Reduce sugar and calories at home. Kids won't be tempted to overindulge if sugary and high-calorie foods aren't in the kitchen.
  • Make healthy foods available. Keeping water, fruits and veggies, and other low-calorie, nutritious snacks out in the open will increase the chances that kids will choose healthy options.
  • Get moving. Cut back on screen time and exercise as a family. Go to the park or playground, take a walk or a bike ride, or go bowling together. Encourage kids to participate in team sports. A new study suggests that extracurricular sports may even give kids' academics a boost. Researchers found that after-school sports improved kids' attention span and level of self-control in the classroom, as well as the importance of respecting rules and honoring responsibilities.
  • Promote sleep. Children should get at least nine hours of shut-eye a night. Those who sleep less are more likely to be overweight or obese. Establish a good bedtime routine.
Current guidelines recommend that kids over 2 years old get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most -- preferably all -- days of the week. Work together as a family to implement physical activity and healthy food choices to support a healthy weight during childhood and adolescence and beyond.
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